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National Insecurity
The NSC and Our Hobbled Strategy in Syria and Iraq

A damning report in The Daily Beast on Friday lays bare what we and many others have long suspected: that the foundering of American policy in the Middle East right now comes in significant part from the dysfunction of the National Security Council helmed by Susan Rice. Josh Rogin and Eli Lake cut to the heart of the matter:

Making matters worse, military officers and civilian Pentagon leaders tell The Daily Beast, is the ISIS war’s decision-making process, run by National Security Adviser Susan Rice. It’s been manic and obsessed with the tiniest of details. Officials talk of sudden and frequent meetings of the National Security Council and the so-called Principals Committee of top defense, intelligence, and foreign policy officials (an NSC and three PCs in one week this month); a barrage of questions from the NSC to the agencies that create mountains of paperwork for overworked staffers; and NSC insistence on deciding minor issues even at the operational level.

“We are getting a lot of micromanagement from the White House. Basic decisions that should take hours are taking days sometimes,” one senior defense official told The Daily Beast.

In Washington, you can usually use the number of leaks as a rough barometer of the dissatisfaction of the groups involved. By that measure, the Pentagon and the broader national security apparatus would appear to be furious with Rice. Rogin and Lake’s piece shows an in-depth grasp of both the tactical challenges in Syria and Iraq and the political ones in Washington, and is well worth reading in full.

With less than 48 hours still to go before the midterm elections that are shaping up to be another “shellacking” for the Democrats, there may be a silver lining for the President. Traditionally, a midterm loss has been an excellent excuse for a President to clean house: witness George W. Bush’s firing of Donald Rumsfeld after the Republican midterm losses in 2006, which in turn set the stage for The Surge and the eventual turn-around in Iraq.

If President Obama is so minded, Tuesday’s results could set the stage for a similar reset in a war that has been proceeding haphazardly at best so far (and by extension, perhaps, a broader foreign policy that seems to be stuck in the mire). If President Obama is so minded.

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  • jeburke

    He’s not so minded. If Rice, McDonough, Blinken or Rhodes are replaced (much less Jarrett), I’ll be very surprised — unless they get promoted!

  • dfooter

    For Obama to be so minded would imply that things aren’t going well, and that he thinks a change of strategy is warranted. While nearly everyone else would say that is the case, I see no evidence he does. There is no political reason to change, as there are no more elections to fight for him. I think he sees his only issue as the history books, and the only thing he can achieve is an accord with Iran. So his strategy will not change since he sees it as the best way to get that accord.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I see no evidence that Obama is capable of learning from his mistakes, as he always blames someone or something else for everything. Only by taking responsibility as a mature adult would Obama be capable of making any changes which included lessons learned.

  • Anthony

    “While a shakeup might be a very good thing for this administration depending on who is brought in. there’s also something deeply worrying in this. The leak suggests that Mr. Obama remains blind to the principal cause of his foreign policy woes. Yes, his team has been a problem. But he is the person most responsible for the absence of a U.S. foreign strategy, for policy zigs and zags, and for the loss of credibility and power. The essential fault lies not with the stars around him, however dim, but with himself…. I don’t know if Obama will replace his team, make one or two appointments or maybe do nothing at all, but what he really needs to do is to look at himself.”

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